Fantasy Basketball: What to Do with Los Angeles Lakers Guard Kendall Marshall
Kendall Marshall exploded onto the scene with 20 points and 15 assists against the Utah Jazz on January 3. Since then, he's averaged 13.4 points, 12.4 assists and 2.3 threes per game. He's been fantasy gold. But with the impending returns of Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar, what should owners do with Marshall?
Chances are—unless you're Marshall's cousin—you didn't draft the North Carolina product. His production is totally incremental. In other words, he's a bonus. Does that mean just riding him out and cutting him if and when he loses his starting role is the best course of action?
As an owner of Marshall myself, I've wrestled with this decision. It's tough to not get anything out of Marshall after such a great run, but what happens if he keeps the job and I'm out 10 assists per game?
Here's what I've come up with.
The Case for Holding
Kendall Marshall is one of only two players to average more than nine assists per game in a collegiate season since 2001. He's the only player to do so in a power conference. The lanes are clogged with talented bigs in the Big 10, Big East and Marshall's ACC, which makes passing highly difficult.
Let me say that again: Marshall was a lottery pick. This isn't a flash-in-the-pan kind of guy. He was believed to have serious NBA ability in him, and he's showing that now. That bodes well for fantasy owners holding onto him.
Mike D'Antoni's offense is dependent on continuous motion managed by a confident point guard. Steve Nash was that guy for D'Antoni 10 years ago in Phoenix. Now, it's Marshall.
He's been a double-double machine for Los Angeles since taking over at the start of 2014. Marshall is a pass-first point guard, who's able to knock down an open three or take it down the lane once defenders stick tighter to their man once they've been burned by a Marshall dime.
But one of the most convincing stats that works in Marshall's favor is the production of Pau Gasol since Marshall has taken the starting job. Gasol's production has suffered the past couple years, but at 33 years old, the Spaniard clearly isn't ready to slide yet:
The question isn't whether or not Marshall's stats are sustainable; they are. It's not even about how he meshes with the team; he does.
The question is whether or not the Lakers will continue to let him start.
The Case for Selling
Fantasy owners are constantly looking for value. Kendall Marshall's value is fairly high right now, as he joins a healthy Chris Paul as the only two players in the NBA who you can pencil in 10 assists per night, game in and game out.
After a month of one healthy point guard, the Lakers will have four by the All-Star break. Even if Marshall holds on to the starting job, his minutes are bound to take a hit. Blake's and Marshall's game (and production) is very similar, so at the very least, the two could split time.
Then there's the win-loss record since Marshall took over. With him starting, Los Angeles is 2-6. Of course, before Marshall, they weren't much better at 13-19, but it's not like a decision to sit Marshall is going to spark an uproar over wins in the City of Angels.
Finally, there's the unknown effect of Kobe Bryant. Bryant, like Nash, is looking toward a January 28 return, though that's very much up in the air. It's reasonable to assume the future Hall of Famer will be back after the All-Star break.
Bryant demands minutes, touches and anything else he wants. He doesn't stop the ball like Mike D'Antoni's former player Carmelo Anthony, but the Lakers certainly aren't as free-flowing when he's on the court, which hurts Marshall.
As an owner of Kendall Marshall, I'm highly incentivized to give you the best possible analysis and recommendation that I can. I'll be taking action on it, too!
Marshall's assist score on ESPN's Player Rater for the past 15 days is tops in the NBA. That alone makes me wary of trading him. Assists are among the hardest stats to accumulate in fantasy basketball, and I don't like the idea of selling high on a player who accrues 10 per game.
As a hedge against Marshall losing his starting job, I'll be grabbing Steve Blake the second some positive news comes out about his return from injury. His assists and threes were nearly as many as Marshall's when he was the starter.
If you're able to sell Marshall for a guaranteed starting point guard, that might be the best course of action. Maybe you can poke around for a guy like Jeff Teague, who's no superstar, but dishes the ball consistently.
My final verdict is to hold on to Kendall Marshall. His real-life production is undeniable, and I think it's worth the gamble that he continues to start after the other points return. Worst-case scenario is that you padded your stats for a month.